7 tips for preserving photographs

July 28, 2015

How much you're willing to do to save a photo probably depends on whether it's a family heirloom or just one of many snapshots from last year's vacation. But it is possible to preserve a special photograph and here’s how.

7 tips for preserving photographs

1. Frame it

The ultimate protection for a photograph is a glass covering and a frame. This way, the only thing that gets dirty is a hard surface that's easy to wipe clean. A frame will enhance the photograph's value and help it last longer. But don't put the photograph directly against the glass — use acid-free matting between the photo and the glass. And don't hang the photo in the path of direct sunlight.

2. Clean it

  • Take the framed photo off the wall and lay it flat.
  • Spray some glass cleaner onto a soft, clean cloth and wipe off the dust.
  • Never spray directly onto the glass — the cleaner could drip behind the frame and damage the photograph.

3. Care for unframed photos

  • Acid-free paper, plastic envelopes and acid-free storage boxes offer good protection.
  • Another good storage option is an album made of high-quality materials.
  • Remember that high temperatures, high humidity and direct sunlight will damage photographic materials.

4. Handle with care

  • The salts and oils from your skin can damage photographs, so never touch the image area directly.
  • Ideally, you should handle photographic material while wearing white cotton gloves.
  • If you must use bare hands, handle your photos, slides and negatives by the edges only.

5. Check for dirt

If your photograph has dirt on the surface, see if it will come off with the gentle swipe of a soft brush. If not, don't do anything more — take it to a professional photo lab to be washed.

6. Clean the edges

  • If your photo has finger marks around the edges or on an unimportant part of the image, you may be able to wipe it away.
  • Dip a cotton swab in distilled water and wipe at the mark very gently.
  • Don't go over the mark again and again, because you'll soften the emulsion and damage it.
  • Let the photo dry before you store it.

7. Light touch for slides & negatives

  • An antistatic cloth can remove dust from slides and negatives — provided you use a light touch.
  • Buy an antistatic cloth at a camera shop.
  • Hold the slide or negative by the edges in one hand. With the other hand, fold the cloth around the film so that it touches both sides.
  • With as little pressure as possible, draw the cloth down the surface, moving in one direction only.
  • The more pressure you apply, the more likely that you'll drag the dust across the surface and scratch it.
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